The Malik Report
by George Malik on 08/12/11 at 08:04 AM ET
We can talk all we want about Jimmy Howard needing to take a little refresher course on rebound control or the fact that the Red Wings can’t rely on one person to step up and fill the leadership voids left by Brian Rafalski, Kris Draper and Chris Osgood, but of all the players that the Free Press’s Helene St. James has focused upon as potential difference-makers (Jiri Hudler, Niklas Kronwall, Danny Cleary, Jonathan Ericsson, Ian White and Johan Franzen), I’d argue that three players will determine whether the Wings eventually need to acquire assistance at the trade deadline, and they might not be the players you’re thinking of.
In terms of what at least I feel is a necessity for the kind of size and strength up front that Ryane Clowe provided against the Wings over the course of two playoff rounds, Johan Franzen’s ability to both score goals more consistently and display a level of physical and mental engagement on a nightly basis to serve as an effective detriment to physical liberties is very important, but I honestly think that Todd Bertuzzi’s just as important in terms of his post-Ryan Johnson incident ability to more consistently keep the flies off by displaying an equally Franzen-like level of consistency on a night-to-night basis.
Bertuzzi’s neither a heavyweight nor someone who’s really going to post more than 20 goals or 45 points at this stage of his career, but if he can crash and bang a little more regularly on the forecheck and continue to heed Mike Babcock’s advice and go to the net to [tick] people off, then players like Franzen and Cleary can worry a little more about scoring goals than specifically grinding down their opponents, and Jan Mursak can slide into the lineup and provide a little more Patrick Eaves-like grit and grind on the third and fourth lines without having to go outside his game to deliberately play physically (ideally, Mursak would eventually regain the hands he displayed as a junior-aged player), and especially as he’s already a vocal player, Bertuzzi’s already become an outspoken leader.
On defense, there’s no doubt that Jonathan Ericsson has to prove he’s worth his salary, Niklas Kronwall’s ready to step into the #2 defenseman’s role and Ian White can truly find a home in Detroit by posting 35 points and offering a little physical panache while providing assistance on the power play…
But there’s something to be said for witnessing Brad Stuart post another five or ten points without sacrificing his defensive game in the process. When Stuart attempted to press offensively while keeping up with Nicklas Lidstrom—something he could easily accomplish in terms of his skating and passing—his defensive game suffered, and there were a few occasions when he got beat like a rented mule (dragging Lidstrom’s plus-minus down in the process). If Stuart can even hint at fulfilling some of the offensive potential for which he was drafted third overall way back in 1998, adding another five or ten points to the 20 he registered over the course of only 67 games played, that’s gravy, but if he can do so while maintaining his defensive focus, the Wings really can rotate three defensive pairings while not sacrificing any of Kronwall’s potential offense to pair him with Lidstrom.
And at center, even given the progress made by Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader as the team’s interchangeable third and fourth-line centers last season, the Wings can allow Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to play together more regularly (despite Babcock’s insistence to the contrary, the fact remains that the Eurotwins are at their best when they’re on the same line) if Valtteri Filppula can reign in his streaky scoring and/or lack of confidence in his offensive abilities while firmly establishing himself as a viable second-line center who’s worth the $7 million the Wings have invested in him over the next two seasons (Filppula’s cap hit is only $3 million, but he actually earns $3.5 million).
Without Filppula stepping up, the Wings are actually a little thin up the middle and might need to add a center down the line, and as St. James suggests, Filppula’s only obstacle in terms of fulfilling his potential might very well be himself (and I should mention that I kinda wrote this without reading St. James’ article [whoops!], so there’s going to be some repetition here):
Filppula is a swift skater, he’s great in his own end, and he’s a terrific passer. He’s going to his shot more than he has in the past, though that’s not saying much considering his early aversion to aiming the puck at the net.
The frustrating part about Filppula is that he clearly could be a better player. In five full seasons, he hasn’t topped 40 points. The team bought into his potential in July 2008, signing him to a five-year deal worth $15 million. While his salary-cap hit is $3 million, Filppula made $3.5 million last season, and will make the same each of the last two seasons on his contract.
There’s no question Filppula is versatile. He can be the second-line center when Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg play together, or play wing when they are split. Filppula is a regular on the power play and can be trusted to kill penalties. What he needs to do more of is get to the inside—that’s what goal scorers do.
Filppula seems to have hit a plateau. He had a nice rookie debut in ‘06-07 with 10 goals and 17 points in 73 games, following that with 19 goals and 36 points in 78 games in ‘07-08. He reached 40 points in ‘08-09, and still delivered 35 points in ‘09-10 despite missing 26 games with a broken wrist.
Filppula spent most of this past season centering the second line, often between big wingers Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi, and got to play a larger role when Datsyuk suffered an injury in January. Still, it didn’t lead to the breakout season everyone in the organization has been expecting for a couple of years, one with closer to 60 points than 40.
The better Filppula plays, the more dangerous he is, the more it helps the team and especially Datsyuk and Zetterberg, who draw the best defenders. Filppula is a pretty complete package—skating, hands, smarts—and should be a bigger contributor for the Wings.
Exactly. Just a little more offense and a healthy dose of consistency and the Wings have a second line center who can pretty much play with anyone, and quite potentially allow Abdelkader to reap the benefits of having a Holmstrom or Cleary on his line to boot (if Babcock doesn’t opt to stack Abdelkader, Helm and Eaves on the same line and toss out a fourth line of a veteran forward with Mursak, Miller and/or Emmerton).*
If you missed it on Thursday, the Red Wings shared quite a bit of information about Red Bird III (N812ME) on Thursday, and Olympia Aviation’s senior pilot, Chuck Shipp, told Red Wings TV that the plane can and will make trips to and from the West Coast without refueling…
Which makes this unusually blabby blogger wonder whether Mike Modano may have been asked to mention Red Bird II’s “short legs” for a player recruitment reason. Shipp states that Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch made sure that the aircraft has state-of-the-art electronics (read: WiFi and in-seat LCD displays) and an interior which caters to card-players and impromptu managerial meetings, so there’s no doubt that the Wings are selling the fact that they invest time, money and energy ensuring that their players are treated fantastically well as something of a recruitment tool, and good for them. There’s no doubt that it’s a significant perk to hop onto a team-owned plane and have your every need ready to be catered to even before you’ve boarded the aircraft, and the team definitely spares no expense when it comes to making the team’s extensive travel schedule a little more palatable.
In foreign-language news, Peter Forsberg’s Icebreakers defeated Jonathan Ericsson’s alma mater, Vita Hasten 5-4 in a charity game in Norrkoping, Sweden on Thursday, despite the presences of Ericsson, his brother Jimmie and Niklas Kronwall on Vita Hasten’s roster.
According to Aftonbladet’s Bjorn Forsgren, Henrik Sedin didn’t play with his brother Daniel, but Henrik Zetterberg scored a goal, registered an assist and was named the game’s most valuable player according to Norrkoping’s Tidningar’s Mats Willner, and Zetterberg had this to say after the game (after suggesting that Ericsson’s status as a Vita Hasten fan kept the Icebreakers in the know as to how to exploit his team):
“It’s a good thing there are a couple of months left before our season starts. But I’m looking forward to it; it’ll be fun to play again. I think we’re going to have a great team again this year, and we expect a lot in Detroit. If we don’t get to the final, it’s a fiasco,” said Zetterberg in the locker room.
NT.se also posted a 20-image photo gallery from the game, and while Kronwall told SVT.se that Vita Hasten played a little sloppily, Zetterberg told Expressen’s Gustav Tagstrom that it was fun to play against Kronwall and Ericsson for a change.
Kronwall is holding a charity hockey game of his own today in the Stockholm suburb of Jarfalla today to benefit his youth hockey team, Jarfalla HC.
Back over on this side of the Atlantic in Lake Placid, NY, Wings prospect Teemu Pulkkinen was held off the scoresheet by Team USA’s World Junior evaluation camp team as the U.S. defeated Finland’s WJC evaluation camp team 4-1, but USA Hockey’s blogger suggests that Pulkkinen was held scoreless because Team USA checked the hell out of him:
Forward Teemu Pulkkinen has been the main target offensively for Finland during the power play, but Team USA did a great job of sticking with him and not allowing him to unleash his monster of a shot.
The combined WJC evaluation camp for the U.S., Finland and Sweden ends on Saturday—Finland and Sweden will face off today and the Americans will play Sweden tomorrow.
Also of Red Wings-related note: ESPN “Insider‘s” Grant Sonier ranked each and every one of the NHL’s 30 teams in terms of their prospect depth, but as I’m not a subscriber, those of you who are will have to let me know what Sonier had to say about the Wings;
• This isn’t Wings-related, but it’s interesting, part 1: According to the AP’s Tom Withers, Ohio State and Michigan will play a hockey game at Cleveland’s Progressive Field on January 15, 2011 (fact: Michigan’s travel tips for fans heading to Columbus include not parking a car with Michigan plates on the street and wearing Michigan garb under layers of clothing so you don’t get harassed);
• This isn’t Wings-related, but it’s interesting, part 2: Inside College Hockey’s James V. Dowd also profiled Michigan State University forward Jake Chelios;
• In the, “Uh, yeah” (Lumberg) category, part 1: Sam Fels of the Committed Indian discussed his disdain for everything Red Wings-related and hate for Pavel Datsyuk on Puck Daddy earlier this week, and now he’s telling NBC Chicago how Steve Yzerman shattered his childhood dreams repeatedly and sparked an inferiority complex regarding the evil Wings.
I don’t like the Blackhawks, but I’m not going to write at length about the Dirk Graham-Michel Goulet-Steve Larmer-Eddie Belfour-Gary Suter-Chris Chelios axis of Wings tormenting in the mid 90’s, either;
• SI’s Stu Hackel suggested on Thursday that Alex Ovechkin may undergo a Steve Yzerman-like transformation into a more well-rounded player and leader under Bruce Boudreau, and I don’t know how the hell to react to that suggestion;
• If you’re interested, Pravda.sk’s Boris Vanya wrote a seriously in-depth article about Slovak Canadian and former Wing Benny Woite, but if you’ll have to read it on your own;
• Does the fact that Darren McCarty’s tattooed arm made the Toronto Sun’s list of most unappealing athlete tattoos count as news at this time of year? I think it does, regrettably…
*And I don’t know why I’m so talkative this morning. My apologies if it was irksome.
Update: Doug Miller has the scoop on EA Sports’ “NHL Legends” added to NHL 12, and one is Chris Chelios (as a Blackhawk).
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.